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Jury selection restarted in school shooting trial, students win policy change, graduations and more

Around the state: Jury selection in the sentencing trial of the Parkland school shooter will restart after the judge decided to scrap the first two weeks over concerns about an appeal, students in Escambia County convince school board members to amend a rule governing their rights to protest school policies, plans are being made in Alachua for the first “normal” high school graduations since 2019, a private church-affiliated school in Palm Beach has lost its lease and will close at the end of this school year, student participation in high schools sports declined during the pandemic in Lee and Collier counties, and the Florida High School Athletic Association has voted to keep the metro-rural classifications for high school football that begin in the fall. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The search for jurors for the sentencing trial of the Parkland school shooter is starting over. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer decided Monday to scrap the first two weeks of picking jurors when prosecutors said she erred when she didn’t further question 11 potential jurors after they said they couldn’t follow the law. Instead, she dismissed them, and prosecutors said that decision sets up possible grounds for an appeal if gunman Nikolas Cruz is sentenced to death for killing 17 students and employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. About 1,200 prospective jurors had been screened and 200 selected for further questioning during the first two weeks of the trial. The restart of jury selection will delay opening statements from June 14 to June 21. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. A summary of Day 7 of the sentencing trial. Sun Sentinel.

Palm Beach: St. Joseph’s Episcopal School in Boynton Beach will close at the end of this school year after its landlord, St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, decided not to renew the school’s lease. Families of students said they were blindsided. “As a parent, we’re stunned,” said Kelly Alexander. “It breaks our hearts for our kids.” The church has not given a reason for its decision. WPTV. WPEC.

Lee, Collier: Student participation in high school sports, which had been declining before the pandemic, has accelerated the past two years, said officials from the Lee and Collier school districts. Nearly 1,300 fewer students played last year. That was down 10 percent in Lee and 7 percent in Collier from the 2018-2019 school year, the last one before the pandemic began. The dropoff was 16 percent among Lee girls and 6 percent among boys. Collier’s participation was down 8 percent. Fort Myers News-Press. A team of six students from Dunbar, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers high schools recently won the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics competition world championship in Houston. Teams from about 110 countries competed. WFTX.

Brevard: School officials are trying to figure out how the state’s request for districts to return unspent federal coronavirus relief aid will affect the district. Brevard received about $64 million, but spokesman Russell Bruhn said it’s unclear if the state is referring to money that has been earmarked for use but not yet spent. “We’re trying to interpret what this message from the state means, in practical terms,” he said. “Money that we haven’t spent has been earmarked for other other initiatives in the coming months.” Florida Today. A 14-year-old student at DeLaura Middle School was arrested Monday and accused of making threats against the school on the social media platform TikTok. Deputies said the student threatened to “bring (a gun) to school and kill everyone.” WKMG.

St. Lucie: A teacher at Forest Grove Middle School in Fort Pierce has been arrested after deputies said she struck a student with a broken broom handle last week. Cyntyche Darling, 49, was sweeping the floor in her class when the metal handle broke off, deputies said. The student picked it up and ran away with it, and a video apparently showed she struck the student several times with the broom handle. District officials said she has been fired. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Escambia: Six county students who spoke out against a proposed district rule that would put limits on their ability to protest school policies won their argument at last week’s school board meeting. “The proposed update to the handbook completely removes the students’ influence over the school’s institutional power,” said one of the students, Pensacola High School junior Emma Carrol. “We will have no control over any decisions made by the school that impact us directly.” Board members decided to amend the rule by adding a statement saying that its purpose was “not to remove First Amendment rights,” then approved it. “It was a step in the right direction, and we were happy to see that our concerns were heard,” said Ben Cherek III, also a junior at Pensacola High. “But we still believe that the article should be removed entirely because its explicit purpose is to restrict our right to petition.” Pensacola News Journal. Four students were hospitalized with minor injuries after the school bus they were in collided with a car Monday morning. Troopers said the car pulled out in front of the bus. WEAR.

Alachua: School officials are making plans for their first normal high school graduations since 2019. About 1,700 students are expected to graduate from the county’s seven public high schools between May 24-27 at the University of Florida’s Stephen C. O’Connell Center and the Curtis M. Phillips Center of Performing Arts. “We are all looking forward to a normal graduation season,” said district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. “After all they’ve been through and all their hard work, these students and their families certainly deserve the kind of ceremony most have been looking forward to for many, many years.” Gainesville Sun.

Bay: School board members are expected today to approve the purchase of textbooks, none of which are on the list the state rejected last week. The Bay Haven and North Bay Haven charter schools did buy some of the rejected materials, but officials from those schools said because they buy digital copies, they expect publishers will be able to make adjustments before schools reopen in the fall. WJHG. A 3rd-grade teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School in Panama City is one of 18 U.S. educators to win a “LifeChanger of the Year” award from the National Life Group. Nicole Ehrhardt will receive $1,500 for herself and $1,500 for her school. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG. City of Springfield officials are trying to get answers for the school district’s plans for Everitt Middle School, which closed in 2018 when it was damaged by Hurricane Michael. Springfield Mayor Ralph Hammond said the town would like to see progress toward the school reopening, but district officials said Everitt struggled with enrollment even before the hurricane. “Just from a financial standpoint is we don’t want to have, if we can avoid it, we don’t want to have a school that basically is not responsible from a financial standpoint to operate,” said Lee Walker, the district’s executive director of facilities. WMBB.

Walton: School officials have decided to remove and review 24 books from school library shelves after a conservative advocacy group sent them a list of 58 books they consider “extremely age-inappropriate and pornographic.” Superintendent Russell Hughes said, “I asked staff to remove the books from circulation for the purposes of reviewing and re-evaluating age-appropriateness and content, especially in the context of Florida’s recent legislative session.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Colleges and universities: The University of North Florida’s search for a new president has been narrowed to four finalists: David Blackwell, a finance professor at the University of Kentucky; David Brennen, a law professor at the University of Kentucky; Moez Limayem, dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Business; and Marc Miller, dean of the University of Arizona College of Law. Interviews will be held in mid-May. WJXT. WJAX. State colleges are trying to address a decline in enrollment by expanding their relationships with high schools. reimaginED.

High school sports decisions: The Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors declined Monday to reconsider its February decision to split high school football classifications between metro and rural areas. A board member had asked that the change be delayed for a year after complaints from metro area coaches. The board did approve the implementation of a 35-second shot clock for high school boys and girls basketball on an “optional but recommended” basis for the 2022-23 season. Gainesville Sun. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WMBB.

Around the nation: Enrollment in state-funded preschool programs dropped by 298,000 children across the country during the 2020-2021 school year, according to the 2021 State of Preschool Yearbook released by the National Institute for Early Education Research at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. It was the first decline in 20 years. Politico. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the case of a Washington state high school football coach who was ordered by school district officials to stop praying on the field with players and students after games, and was suspended when he didn’t. NPR. Associated Press. The 74. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Please don’t control your soul’s desire for chaos when it comes to educational choice. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. We don’t talk enough in schools about the positive side of our history of racism and genocide. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff